The incredible rescue and amazing power of meditation

 

The world have seen the incredibly daring but successful mission of saving the 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in the Tham Luang cave for 18 days, when they were exploring it after a soccer practice session and it became flooded by monsoon rains.

The plight of the boys and their coach, who called themselves the Wild Boars, has captivated not only Thailand, but much of the world – from the heart-wrenching news that they were missing, to the first flickering video taken by a pair of British divers of the cold, anxiously smiling yet calm, dirty and emaciated figures sheltering on a pitch-black ledge surrounded by water and even to the dismaying possibility that the rescue could take months if the monsoon persists exacerbating flooding inside the treacherous cavern.

This was nine days later after being unheard of and their location was about two miles of narrow, flooded passageways from the main entrance. Indeed this was a hell of a place to be in, especially for someone who does not know how to swim.

Efforts to pump water out began immediately as authorities tried to take advantage of a break in monsoon rains.

It was reported that in three stages divers ventured into the claustrophobic caverns to retrieve two boys at a time, giving them a full-face mask for oxygen and tying them with a rope. Each boy was accompanied by two divers, one holding the youngster and a second air tank, while another followed behind. The boys were also given anti-anxiety medication to prevent them from panicking as they were carried and pushed through narrow crevices.

At least 13 specialist divers and 5 Thai Navy Seals were sent in to escort the boys and their coach out.

What an incredible and skillful rescue effort in a perilous situation involving a group of helpless, adventurous individuals in the service for humanity!

But that is not all there is to it.

What makes the whole heroic event also amazingly miraculous is the fact that the boys and their coach were able to survive the 9 harrowing days without food and perhaps, unknowingly, a depleting air for breathing, not to mention the uncertainty of the purity of dripping water being drank.

There is no doubt that credit should go to the coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, who, earlier in his life trained as a Buddhist monk for 12 years before he decided to coach the Wild Boars soccer team.

Needless to say that it was meditation performed individually upon instruction of the coach that got the team through in what has started to be their calvary.

​For Buddhists, meditation is a go-to when distressed or in danger.

Meditation is a type of mental training that can increase your focus and compassion for others, among a wide range of other benefits. It calms you by slowing down your heart rate, your breathing and your metabolism, while decreasing cortisol levels, oxygen utilization and carbon dioxide emission. Cortisol is a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands.

No wonder, therefore, that despite the odds the members of the Wild Boars team were facing, they all showed amazing disposition.

 

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Duterte’s decision to close Boracay

Perhaps one can say that this piece is already water under the bridge since President Rodrigo Duterte has already approved the recommendation of the three government agencies, namely, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Tourism (DOT), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to close the resort island of Boracay for six months.

The description by no less than the president of the famed place as “cesspool” indeed decidedly put a halt to the influx of tourist to the place.

“You go into the water, it’s smelly. Smells of what? Sh*t,” he had said.

Pretty strong and unfavorable words for the local government and stakeholders, but they all had it coming.

I am not writing this to discuss the inadequacies and ineptness of those governing and running their private entities while thinking only of the windfall of earnings they can make at the expense of the tourist who simply wants to experience fun in the Philippines, and the much talked about Boracay in particular, for this issue has received quite a beating already.

But it is perhaps proper and timely to mention here that the shortcomings, the myopic vision, and the vested interests of their own concerns took a toll on the environment, which is an important facet of tourism.

What I want to talk about, therefore, which certainly is not water under the bridge, is in the context of the urgency and necessity of the Boracay closure.

We must admit that the problems that caused embarrassment to Boracay, famous for its powdery white sand and shallow azure water, did not happen overnight, or to put it straightforward, during Duterte’s presidency.

It has been reported that Boracay’s degradation has been blamed on the failure of the local government to enforce ordinances on marine conservation, garbage and sanitation, and zoning and construction, among others.

Also, that at least 300 hotels, resorts and inns have been ignoring an ordinance that requires them to build their own sewage and wastewater treatment facilities. They have instead been dumping waste into canals meant only for rainwater and surface overflow.

Another upsetting revelation is that four of the nine wetlands on the island, meanwhile, are occupied by a shopping mall, a hotel and around 100 illegal settlers.

Talking about impunity by both the governing body and the governed!

While past administrations acted like the three proverbial monkeys exemplifying the proverbial principle of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”, Duterte used his leadership and political will to make a difference in Boracay.

After all, it is the long range plan of sustaining the grandeur of Boracay for the country’s tourism industry that matters most.

 

Genital-breathing turtle on the verge of extinction

I find the story of this species of turtle worth recording, while it is still around, for its unique appearance and peculiar ways. Its freakishness is what makes it worth saving.

Imagine, where else in the animal kingdom could one find a member that exhibits a very bizarre way of breathing using specialized glands in their cloacas—organs that are used for both excretion and mating and which allows it to stay submerged in water for up to 72 hours?

Indeed, the Mary River turtle, as it is called, does not only have a weird way of breathing, but it is also described as having a piercing gold eyes, ‘green hair’ and fleshy barbs on its neck and a tail that can grow to exceptional lengths – that is up to 70 percent longer than the length of its shell.

The gentle turtle’s scientific name is Elusor macrurus and the ‘hairs’ on its head are vertical strands of algae, which makes it look like a swimming patch of grass, the result of staying submerged in water for long hours.

Measuring up to 40cm, the turtle is said to take a long time to mature sexually, rarely mating before the age of 25.

They prefer to dwell in well-oxygenated, flowing sections of streams, known as riffles, though they are sometimes found in deeper pools.

It is because of its gentle/docile nature that the Mary River turtle was kept as a pet in Australia in the 1960s and 70s.

During that period, it was estimated that around 15,000 Mary River turtle eggs were sold to pet shops every year, and the unchecked raiding of the animal’s nests played a large part in driving the turtle towards extinction.

According to the Australian Zoo, Mary River turtles are also threatened by habitat degradation, which includes “problems such as a deterioration of water quality through riverside vegetation being cleared, water pollution through siltation, agricultural chemical contamination and water flow disruptions through the construction of weirs for irrigation and predation.”

As its name suggest, the Mary River turtle lives only in the flowing streams of the Mary River in Queensland, Australia.

Unfortunately the turtle is also at number 29 on the new official list of the most endangered reptiles in the world.

 

Gorillas dying in captivity

In the same manner that my attention always gets pulled towards the zoo enclosures where large primates are found, like the gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans, I also get bothered and saddened reading about these intelligent, human-like animals suffering and dying in captivity.

It is bad enough that these herbivorous apes have been displaced from their natural habitat of dense forests where they spend most of their daytime feeding on vegetation, but it gets even worst when man insidiously change their diet.

Long running studies have been made to find solution to a crisis facing captive apes the world over that gets transferred to an artificial environment only to die later.

In 1911, Madame Ningo, the first gorilla in North America, arrived at the Bronx Zoo, where she was fed hot, meat-centric meals from a nearby restaurant. Being an herbivore, Madame Ningo refused to eat and was dead within two weeks.

In 2006, three seemingly healthy male gorillas in American zoos died from heart disease—a condition almost nonexistent in wild gorillas. Scientists have since determined that 70% or so of adult male gorillas in North America have heart disease, and it’s the leading killer of captive male gorillas worldwide.

Significant proof to this is when a 30-year-old and 400-pound gorilla named Mokolo unknowingly got an ultrasound heart exam when he voluntarily shambled up to a stainless-steel fence, squatted on his stout legs, and pressed his belly to the mesh.

Like many captive male gorillas, Mokolo suffers from heart disease—specifically, fibrosing cardiomyopathy, a condition that turns red, healthy heart muscle into bands of white scar tissue too rigid to pump blood. Other great apes, such as orangutans and chimpanzees, suffer at similar rates.

For more than a decade, zookeepers, veterinarians, epidemiologists and others have struggled to figure out why heart disease is so prevalent among captive apes, and how to prevent the animals from developing it. Now they may be closing in on answer—one that lies not in the 20-ounce time bombs housed in gorillas’ chests, but in the microscopic bacteria that flourish in their guts.

“The gut dictates everything,” a biological anthropologist says. Even with advances in feeding, scientists believe gorillas are still getting too much sugar and grain—and too little fiber—and it’s changing the microbes in their guts. It’s possible that, as in humans, gut microbes play a role in the health of systems throughout the body.

Perhaps what this means is that unlike in the forest where the flora being foraged is what gives the gorillas more of the good bacteria in their guts, in captivity most of the food given them generates more bad bacteria that makes it generally unhealthy for the body.

New species of orangutan discovered

 

An adult male Tapanuli orangutan in the Batang Toru Forest (Photo from National Geographic).

Far from being the Fosseys and Goodalls of this world, both leading primatologists, the discovery of a new species of orangutan, however, brings excitement to ordinary people, like me, who loves and gets immensely entertained by this kind-looking, playful and intelligent variety among the primates, who generally are considered one of humankind’s closest relatives.

Orangutans long were considered a single species, but were recognized as having two species in 1996, one in Sumatra (Pongo abelii) and one in Borneo ((Pongo pygmaeus).

(Photo by National Geographic)

The new species, called Pongo tapanuliensis, is found in the isolated Batang Toru forest in Sumatra, Indonesia. And it’s estimated that there are fewer than 800 of these shaggy reddish tree dwellers left, making it very vulnerable to extinction. It makes the new species also the rarest great ape on Earth. Note that the Sumatran (estimated 14,000) and Bornean (estimated 55,000) have both been declared as critically endangered.

Although the Tapanuli orangutans were thought to belong to the species Pongo abelii, also known as the Sumatran orangutan, scientists discovered that the new species is more closely related to its cousins in Borneo than to its fellow Sumatran apes.

But according to scientists there had been a few hints in their observation that the so-called Tapanuli orangutans were different. Previous research showed that this population of orangutans behaved differently than other orangutans and had some genetic differences. But it wasn’t clear whether those differences were enough to name a new species, thus, it continued to be identified as belonging to the Sumatran orangutan.

The tell tale signs of significant difference later came when researchers got access to the skeleton of an orangutan found in the Tapanuli region. The orangutan, named Raya, had died after being harassed and injured by people, according to National Geographic. A comparison between Raya’s skull and teeth and those of 33 other adult male orangutans revealed that there were enough differences to grant a new species designation.

Orangutan means “person of the forest” in the Indonesian and Malay languages, and it is the world’s biggest arboreal mammal. Orangutans are adapted to living in trees, with their arms longer than their legs. They live more solitary lives than other great apes, sleeping and eating fruit in the forest canopy and swinging from branch to branch.

“It’s pretty exciting to be able to describe a new great ape species in this day and age,” said University of Zurich evolutionary geneticist Michael Krützen, adding that most great apes species are listed as endangered or critically endangered.

“We must do everything possible to protect the habitats in which these magnificent animals occur, not only because of them, but also because of all the other animal and plant species that we can protect at the same time.”

Matthew Nowak, of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, echoed the same sentiment, saying, that “In addition to threats like hunting by humans, significant areas of the Tapanuli orangutan’s range are seriously threatened by habitat conversion for small-scale agriculture, mining exploration and exploitation, a large-scale hydroelectric scheme, geothermal development and agricultural plantations.”

Talking about collateral damage!

Lopez’s rejection and disrespect for Taguiwalo

 

Ms. Regina “Gina” Lopez

I am talking of course about the confirmation hearing by the Commission on Appointments (CA) that rejected with finality the appointment of Ms. Regina “Gina” Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources DENR) and the deferment of the appointment of Ms. Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Both women are strong-willed and independent minded and advocate of causes worthy of respect and admiration for their aspirations and beliefs intertwine as it involves the environment, where if mismanaged and abused, it is the poor and the socially marginalized who are greatly affected.

It is no wonder therefore that an advocate of green environment has been chosen by President Rodrigo Duterte to head the DENR (https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/sec-gina-lopez-and-the-mining-industry/) and the champion of the oppressed was to lead the DSWD (https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/tag/social-welfare-secretary-judy-taguiwalo/).

There is no doubt in my mind that Lopez will be remembered as the best DENR secretary the country never had because of politics and politicians being propped up by filthy rich businessmen who have large stakes in the mining industry.

“If you want to be confirmed, don’t go against big business,” an angry Lopez shouted during a long press conference after the bicameral hearing rejected her appointment.

“It’s wrong when lawmakers don’t stand up for the rights of every Filipino, but rather big business. It’s really very wrong.”

But if there is one good thing that Lopez has done in her short and controversial tenure as DENR secretary, it is to awaken the mining industries in the country that it behooves upon them to replant and to treat their waste water so that environmental disasters affecting the poor and the marginalized can be prevented from occurring.

Ms. Judy Taguiwalo

The case of Taguiwalo was something else.

The CA deferred the confirmation of Taguiwalo because of her strong links to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the confirming body just probably wanted more time to find out where she really stands now – her loyalty and ideology – considering her position as a Cabinet member.

But what really soured and turned off many during Taguiwalo’s confirmation hearing was the blatant display of arrogance and insensitivity, if not idiotic remarks disguised as a joke, by the Senate clown himself, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III (https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/more-than-a-senator-sotto-is-a-clown/), who, while grilling her, tried to sound funny, saying: “Just on the lighter side, Senator Drilon and I were looking at the personal info about you. You have two children – daughters or sons?”

Lighter side?

Sotto, with Drilon smiling at his side, considers this question “on a lighter side” when he knew already what went on with Taguiwalo’s life raising her daughters as a single parent?

If it was not meddling enough in Taguiwalo’s private life, Sotto proceeded further to disrespect and humiliate the former by saying that “Single mothers are “na-ano lang” (just got knocked up).”

What is being a single parent got to do with being confirmed, for chrissake!

If it was meant to be a joke, as Sotto later claimed it was, then it was a sick joke that could only come from one with a sick mind who does not deserve to be in the Senate at all.

Unlike Lopez and Taguiwalo, Sotto’s advocacy is simply to be a clown.

 

Making Earth great again

Don’t be a sucker.

It is not really about making America great again for it is now, has always been and will always be.

But for America to continue being great and for the rest of the world community, including the third world countries, to experience peace and contentment, there is a need for humanity to respect and be thankful for what Earth has been to the population.

What I am just saying is that let us all take care of mother Earth and believe that our collective inattention to her for her continued usefulness is what is causing havoc everywhere in an unimaginable manner, shape and form.

There is a truism, saying, “We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

We should all be embarrassed and conscience-stricken for the legacy we are leaving behind which could only be attributed to man’s folly.

But it is never too late.

We can still atone for our mistakes and strive hard to make Earth more friendly and great again.

To convince you that, indeed, Earth is our only home today, tomorrow and in ages to come, allow me to share this video with you.

Bill Maher uses colorful language, but he is funny and telling the truth.